Shirlie Alice Montgomery June 9, 1918 – November 5, 2012

Shirlie Alice Montgomery was born on Chapman Street in San Jose on June 9, 1918. She was an only child. To her friends and neighbors she was a treasure trove of history. Shirlie remembered it all. She remembered the Great Depression as a child, the Second World War as a young woman, and eventually the transformation of the Santa Clara Valley from a moderately sized agricultural town to the hustle and bustle of modern Silicon Valley. The majority of her memories were supported by the thousands of photographs in her collection.

She was the surviving grandniece of San Jose’s forefather T.S. Montgomery. Shirlie lived a colorful life but professionally she photographed it with a 4X5 Speed Graphic in B&W. She was a celebrated photographer that shot Hollywood stars, U.S. Presidents and pro wrestlers. Although Shirlie did work for the S. F. Examiner and the San Jose Mercury, her works remain some of the best representations of pro wrestling from the 40’s thru the 60’s. When asked about her penchant for shooting professional wrestlers she would answer “I always liked the big boys.” Such stories Shirlie had!

She will never be forgotten. God rest her soul. (Obituary by Joe Holt, neighbor and friend.)

Monday, October 10, 2022

Valley Memories: Curiosities & Treasures from History San José’s Collection features Shirlie Montgomery

The current exhibit at History San Jose's Clyde Arbuckle Gallery in the Pacific Hotel is a treasure of old San Jose. Titled: "Valley Memories: Curiosities & Treasures from History San Jose's Collection." It features memorabilia from many aspects of life in San Jose through the years. One vignette is about HSJ's photograph collection ... which houses Shirlie Montgomery's collection among others. The information panel features a photo and a quote by Shirlie. This is a fine exhibit ... head over to HSJ and spend some time investigating the many historical houses and vignettes.



From HSJ's website (


History San José manages one of the largest collections of regional history artifacts in California, preserving the Santa Clara Valley’s collective memory. Originated in 1949 as a temporary exhibition inside a replica State House building in downtown San Jose, the City’s historic collection has grown over the decades thanks to its original curator, Clyde Arbuckle, and the thousands of Valley residents and businesses who have donated to the San Jose Historical Museum and History San Jose. The collection now represents not only the Valley’s innovative spirit – from Native American baskets and tools, to agricultural equipment, to locally-pioneered pre-silicon chip technologies – but also the everyday lives and interests of its citizens.


As History San José approaches the museum’s 75th anniversary in 2024, we are taking this opportunity to highlight the breadth of the collection, and engage visitors to History Park with a selection of the familiar – and not-so-familiar – artifacts usually kept behind locked doors in our warehouse. From vintage motorcycles, radios and cameras, to games, sports jerseys, fashion and food products, there will be something to interest everyone – and hopefully spark a memory…or two!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Corner San Fernando & 1st Street Downtown San Jose

These are a couple of photos taken by Shirlie at the Corner San Fernando & 1st Streets in San Jose. Gordon's Sport Shop (121 E San Fernando) across from Safeway, downtown San Jose c1940. (Photos by Shirlie Montgomery)




Sunday, March 27, 2022

Title Documents on Shirlie's Family House on Atlanta Avenue ... Strange!

Back in 1919 when Shirlie Montgomery's family moved to a new house on Atlanta Avenue in San Jose, the deed had a couple of codicils that were truly a product of their time. Such conditions are illegal today, but were quite common back then. The paragraph under the microscope is the last in this image:


"This conveyance is made and accepted upon the express conditions that if a dwelling house be erected upon said premises, the same shall cost not less than $2500.00 and upon the further condition that said property shall not be sold or conveyed to any Italian, Slavonian, Negro or Japanese.”


Now I understand the home value condition ... a bit weird, as why do the sellers care? But the prohibition of a future sale or conveyance to "any Italian, Slavonian, Negro or Japanese" really caught my eye. The Negro I understand due to the race issues of that time. The Japanese ban is equally understandable in relation to the fear of Asians taking over the USA back in those days. BUT why Italians and Slavonians? Especially in San Jose which had a significant population of both ... or maybe it was because of that presence.


History is always interesting, many times it is surprising, and sometimes - like this one - just plain strange.


Shirlie never mentioned this and she certainly did not have a racist bone in her body. I am sure she could have helped me understand it.


546 Atlanta Avenue in San Jose

Fred Houser for US Senator Campaign 1944

Fred Houser for U.S. Senator" campaign signs, carried by horse and carriage. Frederick Frances Houser served in the California State Assembly from 1931-33 and 1939-1943. He served as the 34th Lieutenant Governor of California under governor Earl Warren between 1943 and 1947. During this time, in 1944, he lost a U.S. Senate race against Sheridan Downey.

(Images from the Bob and Susan Bortfeld, Shirlie Montgomery Collection at History San Jose. Used with permission.)


Sunday, August 2, 2020

SJ Ad Club Trip to Sun Valley Idaho 1964

The San Jose Ad Club used to take annual group trips ... in 1964 they went up to Sun Valley Idaho. Looks like they had a good time ... they always did!

Hotel De Anza's Danzabar Lounge in the 1940s-1950s

Back in the 40s & 50s, the Danzabar at the top of the Hotel De Anza in San Jose was THE place to be. Shirlie Montgomery was the "photo girl" at the bar ... took a photo of the patrons, developed it and then tried to sell it to the subjects ... all within one hour. I found these photos and some negatives along with a presentation folder. Shirlie marked the envelope with the negatives "May 20, 1944."

Monday, July 27, 2020

Story about Shirlie in Image Magazine 2014

Shirlie Montgomery - Girl Photographer. That was the title given to Shirlie's exhibit at History San Jose. I coined that word for them when I donated HSJ Shirlie's archive ... it was the name of the blog I have about her. Image Magazine ran this article about Shirlie and the exhibit back in 2014. I thought I would share this, as there are a few great photos included.